Jul 02 2013

Why I am sending my daughter to P.S. 163

Over the past year there have been several articles analyzing which schools people on both side of the ‘reform’ debate send their children to go to school.  For example, Obama’s kids go to Sidwell Friends.  Duncan sent his kids to the progressive Chicago Lab School.

This information is interesting since it enables us to get an insight about what these politicians really think the purpose of schools is.  Obama even once noted that at his daughter’s school, they don’t focus at all on standardized tests.  This is somewhat ironic considering the importance of standardized tests in his own Race To The Top.

Back in March, the main reformer of them all, 1992 TFA alum, Michelle Rhee, refused to admit that one of her two daughters attended a private school in Tennessee where her ex-husband, Kevin Huffman (also TFA 1992) is the commissioner of education there.  Her spokesperson said, when questioned about this, “It is our policy not to discuss where Michelle’s children attend school out of respect for their privacy.”

For those of you who don’t know, one of Rhee’s big lines in many speeches is “My daughters suck at soccer,” before explaining that our country has been too quick to reward people, like with the soccer ribbons her daughters have, who haven’t earned it.  So for sure her daughters privacy is not completely sacred, at least in this context.

I should also mention that I don’t think that there is any sort of safety threat to the children of a politician or otherwise national figure, knowing where his or her kids go to school.

I’m not so sure that someone who works full time in education policy and who has a lot of influence with the media and with politicians has the right to keep her decisions about where to send her kids to school private.  It’s like if there was a health expert, like Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser, and it gets reported that she brings her kids to Burger King every day for lunch and dinner.  If this is her choice, I don’t think that her kids privacy is an issue.  For sure there shouldn’t be pictures in the paper of the kids eating Burger King, or even pictures of the kids at all, but the FACT that the kids eat fast food is relevant and important to know.

A few days after the Rhee story broke, seemingly in retaliation, the New York City tabloids ran stories about how Leonie Haimson, school advocate and founder of ‘Class Size Matters’, decided to send her son to a private school for high school.

The question that these revelations begs is:  Are any or all of these people hypocrites?  I think this question needs to be considered on a case by case basis.

With Rhee, well, I could make the case that she is not a hypocrite for sending one of her daughters to a private school (why not both?).  After all, she has consistently said over the year that the American school system “sucks” so why would she allow her child to go to one.

Likewise with Haimson, I don’t think she is a hypocrite at all.  She believes in the importance of small class size.  She advocates for this constantly.  So for her child she pays to send her child to a high school where he is guaranteed to have a small class size.

For Obama and Duncan, it is a bit more difficult to say they are not hypocrites.  The schools they send their kids to have none of the test prep and teachers teaching to the test to save their jobs of the charter schools that they seem to love so much.  The only resolution is that they might think that a progressive school with plenty of play, art, and music is appropriate for rich kids who are not behind in their skills while poor kids who are behind need a different type of school that focuses on the academic content with double blocks of math and reading and little room for anything inspiring.  If that were the case, they wouldn’t be hypocrites either, just people who think that “those kids” “need” something like a KIPP school in order to catch up.  I’m not sure if that isn’t worse than being a hypocrite.

I don’t know that I’m a prominent enough player in the education wars for any newspaper to write about where my daughter, who is going into kindergarten next year, will go to school.  I’m writing about it, though, to give people an insight into what my decision says about what I value in a school based on my actions and not just my words.

New York City has a very complicated process for selecting a school for your child.  There are charter schools you can apply to, there are public schools that are ‘lottery’ schools even though they are not charters, there are zoned schools, there are district gifted and talented programs, there are city wide gifted and talented schools, and then, well, there’s Hunter.

The Hunter school is the most coveted school in the city.  To get into Hunter your child has to first get evaluated by a child psychiatrist who administers something like an IQ test to the four year old.  The test costs $300 and thousands of people have their kids tested.  About 500 kids make it to the second round by scoring over a cut off score that changes from year to year, but is generally around 150.  Those 500 kids are then subjected to a second round which is called a ‘play date.’  In the play date, thirty kids at a time go to the school and play with each other while people with clipboards observe them and take notes.  After everyone goes through the play dates, Hunter picks twenty five boys and twenty five girls and then has a short wait list.

My zoned public school is P.S. 163.  I live in an area of Manhattan that has a mix of different socioeconomic groups.  A few blocks south of me there are some very rich people.  A few blocks north there is a housing project.  I know that if P.S. 163 doesn’t have the best test scores in the city, it is not a reflection on the quality of the teachers.  And the progress reports, which I know are really meaningless too, as they try to measure the ‘growth’ of the students were, over the past three years a C in 2010, a C in 2011, and a B in 2012.  Parents are generally happy with the school.  The teachers care, the school environment is nurturing, and the principal is enthusiastic.  Without any any action on my part, my daughter would be admitted to the general education program of that school, which we would be happy with, though with gifted and talented programs we could be eligible for, including one in our zoned school, it was worth a shot to go through the New York City ‘choice’ process.

‘Reformers’ always say that the quality of the teacher is the most important in-school factor for academic achievement.  When ‘reformers’ are asked about the importance of class size they say something like “Would you rather have your child with a great teacher in a class size of 40 or a bad teacher in a class size of 20?” supposedly proving that teacher quality is more important than class size.  Never do they ask if you would rather your child have an average teacher in a class of 20 or a ‘great’ teacher in a class of 40, for which I know I’d go with the small class size.

Well, as a parent I can tell you that I don’t think that the quality of the teacher is the most important in-school factor.  The most important in-school factor is, without a doubt, the ‘peer group.’  So if you ask me if I’d rather have my child with a ‘great’ teacher in a class where all the other students are three years behind my child in ability or a ‘bad’ teacher in a class where all the kids in my child’s class are, like her, above grade level, well I’d go with the ‘bad’ teacher then.  Having been a teacher for fifteen years I know how tough differentiation is.  Teachers, even ‘great’ ones, generally teach to the middle and then throw together some enrichment for the high performers and modify the assignments for the low performers.

By ‘peer group,’ I should make clear, I am not saying that I want my daughter to be in class with only white middle to upper class kids.  Actually, I would not like that at all.  I’d want my daughter, ideally, in an ethnically diverse class where all the students are functioning above grade level.  I do know that there are problems with having too homogeneous, even academically, a population.  There is a lot to be said for the other types of intelligences which might be under represented in a fully gifted and talented (as determined by a standardized test) class.  Still, weighing out all the options, a gifted and talented class would be the one that, from my perspective, where the pros most outweigh the very real cons.

My wife and I decided to have our daughter go through the Hunter application process, which began in the fall.  This was not, let me emphasize again, because I thought that the teachers at Hunter were any more talented than the teachers at P.S. 163.  It had everything to do with having her in a class where she would likely be somewhere in the middle rather than one where she might be way ahead of everyone else.  Incidentally, at this point I just assumed, like most people do about their children, that she was ‘gifted.’  She can already read Dr. Seuss books from cover to cover with rhythm.  The only thing that she is developmentally behind on is blowing her nose.  I have tried everything in my power as a teacher to break down the process of nose blowing into about 17 steps which can be practiced independently, and she seems to be many years away from getting this important life skill.

‘Reformers’ have been recently responding to critics who say that high stakes testing is causing teachers to teach to the test, by saying that ‘research shows’ that teaching to the test does not actually work.  Of course this isn’t true.  The ‘test’ as, at least, most of them currently are, is something that can be gamed by appropriate test prep.  I know this which was why I shelled out several thousand dollars to a New York City company called ‘Bright Kids’ which helps prepare your child for the New York City gifted and talented test.  As a side effect of this preparation, it would get my daughter comfortable for the Hunter test, as well.  ‘Officially’ the Hunter test is supposed to be something you cannot prepare for and the testers are supposed to disqualify you if they sense that the child has been prepped for the test, but that was a chance we felt we had to take as, like the nuclear arms race, the other people, our competition, were surely taking this risk too, and if my daughter is indeed gifted there is no reason she should lose her place to a non-gifted kid who took lessons.  Then again, maybe my daughter is that non-gifted kid who took lessons and is taking a truly gifted kid’s spot …

So, me, Mr. anti-standardized tests, brought my 4 year old daughter every Saturday over the summer where she practiced doing analogies (with pictures) and also pattern finding, among other things that appear on these tests.  They gave us books for us to work with her at home with and I broke out the books just once and when I saw how difficult some of the patterns were and how she wasn’t really developmentally ready to notice that picture 2 was a rotated and mirror image of picture 1, I put the books away and never worked with her again on this.  It would have to be all on Bright Kids and whatever natural ability my daughter had.

She took the test and we got a letter that her score was a 151 which would have been over the cutoff for previous years, but the cutoff for this year would be announced later.  We were thrilled that the cutoff was a 149 so we made it to the second round — the play date.

Now you can buy anything in New York City so of course Bright Kids offered to sell us a simulated play date lesson.  We declined this, you will all be happy to know.

I also have a son who was one and a half while this was going on.  Until he turned two, a few months ago, he was not a very good sleeper.  Most nights he’d wake up around 2 AM and in doing so, would wake up my daughter — they share a room.  Don’t ask what a 3 bedroom apartment would cost to rent in New York City!  In order to give my daughter the best chance to be alert and well rested for this play date, the plan was for me to take my son to sleep over at my father’s apartment — he and my stepmother were out of town.  So I get the portable crib and my son and take a cab out to his apartment around 7:30 PM the night before the second round Hunter test.  We get to my father’s building and get in the elevator.  I make sure that my sons hands are away from the elevator door when they close.  The elevator goes up and the bell rings that we are on our floor.  I grab our stuff and then, as the door starts to slide open, my son puts his hand on the door and his hand slides with the door and, I never knew this was even possible, slid right into the slot wedged between the door and the wall.  His hand is stuck and he is screaming and this all happens so fast I don’t even know what to do, but I make the — possibly unwise — decision to yank his hand out of the wall.  He is screaming and I bring him into the apartment and call the doctor and they say I may need to take him to the emergency room.  He may have broken some of his fingers.  He seems to have some movement, though, and they say that it will be OK if I just bring him in the next day, assuming that he is not in so much pain.  So this poor guy nearly lost some fingers just so his sister would have a chance to go to Hunter.  (It turned out that my Son’s fingers were OK, miraculously, the doctor told us the next day.)

My daughter did the play date and when we asked her about it she told us that one of the things they asked her was to count as high as she could.  She said she counted to 20.  When I asked her why she didn’t keep going — she could count to at least 30, I knew — she said that they stopped her at 20.  A friend of ours, though, said her kid counted to 50.  We were in trouble!  A week later we got the word that we were not offered a place at Hunter or on the waiting list.  Whether is was the counting to 20 or something else, we don’t know, and never will.  Maybe they figured out that we prepped her for the first round test.  Maybe they tested to see if she could blow her nose.

Our next step, then, was to take the gifted and talented test for the programs in the New York City public schools a few weeks later.  If you can score over the 90th percentile on that, you can apply to be in one of the G & T programs in your district.  If you score over the 96th percentile you can also apply to one of the three city-wide G & T programs including the ‘gold star’ called Anderson.  Even though you qualify for these programs with a 90 or a 97, in previous years there were so many students scoring in the 99th percentile that all the spots in the citywide and the local G & T programs went to students who got 99s, and even they had to compete against each other in a lottery.

So my daughter took a couple of brush up lessons at Bright Kids before the G & T test which she took in January, though we wouldn’t get results until May.

Around this time we also entered a lottery for a spot in a public K-8 school in our district called ‘Manhattan School For Children.’  We visited this school and liked what we saw.  From what we had heard they offer spots to the people who win their lottery and then they have an inexplicably short wait list.  Then, after the G & T results come back, some people who won the MSC lottery will decline their spots opening up to the wait list.  But since the wait list is quite short — not everyone who applied and didn’t make it in on the first round makes it onto the wait list, once it is used up the school can basically choose who they want from their ‘VIP’ list.  So you want to show your face at their fundraiser and be sure to have some face time with their admissions person, which we did.

The amazing thing about Manhattan School For Children is that despite huge number of well to do families vying to get their kids into it, when you look at their progress report you find that, at least according to the DOE, it is one of the worst schools in the city.

In 2012, out of 160 K-8 schools, Manhattan School For Children ranked 158th.  In other words, only two K-8 schools in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, or Staten Island, were worse.

But when you look at their progress report, you see something unusual:

Despite their F in progress, which actually makes the THE lowest rated K-8 school on the progress component of the report (which is 60% of the whole score), and the fact that they were 158th out of 160 K-8 schools in their overall score, they did not get an overall score of an ‘F’, but of a ‘C’!

But their 29.3 overall score is below the 29.9 cutoff for an F.  So I compared to the other schools in this range:

For some reason they were given a ‘C’ and if you look back up at at the overall score, you can see in the small print the provision “Schools with average English and Math performance in the top third citywide cannot receive a grade lower than a C.”  Keep in mind that getting an ‘F’ can get you shut down, so this is pretty lucky that they have this provision.

So the fact that I was trying to get my daughter into this school, going to a fundraiser and bidding $100 in the silent auction for two tickets to Pippin! (someone outbid me, thankfully!), talking to parents who already had kids there about strategies to ‘harass’ and ‘stalk’ the admissions officer to get on their VIP list, really shows how little I think of the so-called ‘progress’ reports.

A bit of irony is that if my daughter would have made it into this school (she didn’t win the lottery or make the wait list and we have not ‘stalked’ the admissions person to get on the VIP list.), I could very well have been working a bake sale fundraiser standing next to none other than Wendy Kopp.  (It is publicly known that her children go there as she has said it in public interviews including this one.)

The deputy chancellor of New York City who is in charge of closing schools is a TFA alum named Marc Sternberg.  He has shut down dozens of schools (and tried to close down even more) over the past few years.  He was recently a keynote speaker at a big TFA fundraiser so they must be OK with shutting down ‘failing’ schools.  Imagine, though, if that provision that bumped MSC from an F to a C were not in place?  Sternberg would be licking his chops to shut down this ‘failing’ school with the kids of Wendy and her husband who is one of the top people of KIPP.  Maybe then TFA would come out against school closing based on bogus metrics.  This is, to say the least, ironic.

TFA would claim they are neutral on school closings, but I don’t think it is possible.  You either are disgusted by them and speak out against them, particularly if you are a political powerhouse like TFA, or you are not.  Their silence on this issue, to me, is a full endorsement of this weapon of school reform.  After all, TFA alums who are chancellors and state education comissioners are some of the biggest supporters of school closings, other TFA alums benefit when the schools are closed and they get to swoop in and occupy those schools with their own charter schools.  Also, the main supporters of TFA are also supporters of school closings.  I do wonder, though, how Wendy would feel if the ‘failing’ (at least in terms of the bogus NYC progress reports) school that her kids attend were to be shut down and replaced with a ‘no excuses’ charter.

Now this does not make Wendy and her husband hypocrites for sending their kids to an F rated school, based on test gains, while promoting charter schools that are fixated on test scores and much more rigid than the progressive MSC.  It could be just that they think that for poor kids a school like a KIPP is needed.  To tell you the truth, I do think that a school that works for one population might not work for another — but I still don’t think that the ‘no excuses’ charters are the good alternative.

Back to the story:  So the G & T results come back about a month ago and my daughter, it said, got a 98th percentile.  This was awful news.  In our district, about 25% of the kids score in the 99th percentile so with that 98 we would have no chance at Anderson, and nearly no chance at our local G & T program at our zoned school P.S. 163.  But when I looked more carefully at her score report I noticed something unusual.  Over the past few years the G & T test was heavily verbal and they found that the results were skewed giving white kids higher scores.  About 40% of white kids were gifted according to the old test, while only 5% of black kids, or something like that.  So this year they had two tests, a verbal and a non-verbal.  The non-verbal was worth 65% and the verbal was worth 35%.  This would get a more balanced group of gifted kids, the theory went.  That didn’t happen.  It actually got even more skewed toward white kids, maybe because of test prep companies, or maybe because the DOE, once again, didn’t do their research.  So the thing I noticed that puzzled me was that my daughter had gotten a 99 on each of the subtests, but a 98 combined score.  It didn’t make sense.

Fortunately this happened to several other parents and one reported it and it resulted in the tests being rescored and with that our daughter had a 99 combined score.  So now were had a small chance at Anderson, around a 5% chance, and a pretty good chance at our local G & T.  (You rank the schools and then they have a lottery — it is very complicated.)  To add another complication into the mix I learned that there was a rule where if a student in a G & T program has a younger sibling, if that sibling gets a 90% then the sibling gets to take a spot in that program before any of the 99s get to pick.  There was a chance that even with our 99, we would be shut out completely — something that actually happens a lot of people each year.  Well, we must have drawn a decent lottery number because although we did not get into Anderson, we did get a spot at our local G & T program at P.S. 163.

I went to visit the school recently and thought it was great.  I saw the G & T class and was pleased to see it quite diverse.  I also looked at a great dual language program they have and also their regular general education classes looked great too.  I’m looking forward to being an active parent — I hope they don’t get common core crazy since I’ll have some ‘suggestions’ if they do!

The looming question now is:  Am I a hypocrite?  Here I want my daughter to be in a ‘peer group’ with kids, like her, who come to kindergarten already able to read while I seem to have a problem with charter schools excluding the toughest to educate kids and then kicking out the few that make it through their initial defenses, thus creating a peer group of motivated low-income students with motivated parents.  The truth is, though, that I wouldn’t have such a problem with charters creating this enhanced peer group if they would not lie about doing more with the ‘same kids’ as the nearby ‘failing’ school.  What this has caused is those ‘failing’ schools getting starved of resources, their schools shut down, and their teachers fired.  All because they did not try to game the system.

So that’s my saga — my quest to get my daughter with the most appropriate peer group for her, the most important in-school factor, in this parent’s opinion.

57 Responses

  1. Educator

    Many thoughts -

    1) You are very open about your family and I admire that. As you can see from my anonymous name, I don’t have the courage you do.

    2) As much as I disagree with what a lot of reformers are doing, I can see what they’re arguing, which you allude to: Their argument is that children in low-income neighborhoods need an escape route. The best escape route is basically a high SAT score and a high GPA / state exam scores. So, do everything possible to get this to happen: examples are KIPP dictatorship style teaching, charter kicking out SPED/ELL/bad behaved students, discouraging “bad” parents from applying to charters, etc…

    I’m not sure if I’m OK with what they do, but I understand it if their goal is to get as many low-income students into college. What I’m definitely not OK with is when they claim that they are doing a “better” job than their traditional counterparts, as this damages the other schools as you have so often mentioned. This is NOT OK because policy makers (think tanks, hedge fund owners, billionaires, politicians, ed reformers) are, whether intentional or not, getting wrong information, and basing their policies on those incorrect assumptions.

    But I understand why charters/politicians/policy makers do this. Many of them have their own interests to protect, just like many of the traditional teachers have interests to protect. What I don’t like is when reformers claim to care more about students, but somehow they don’t have their own interests to protect. Of course they do. They’re agenda is being promoted by their reforms, just like the traditional educators’ agenda is being promoted by their resistance to corporate reforms. The question is, which reforms are better? And when reformers use skewed facts such as “100% graduation and 100% college vs the local failing school’s 60% graduation rate”….it’s just wrong and doesn’t promote good policy discussion.

    3) Look how much energy you spent navigating the public education system in NYC. You blog about education. You’ve written books about teaching! You’re a teacher! You hang out with the elite education crowd and write open letters to reformers you know!
    A lot of voucher system proponents and choice proponents believe we should unleash the free market for schools as a way to improve them. But remember this only happens if the customers are well informed. If everyone did what you did Gary, then maybe I’d be OK with a purely market based system (really, I mean that) to improve schools. But…why do I have the feeling that a parent or two..or thousands…wouldn’t have the slightest clue as to what to do in getting their child to the best school for their child. I think this is why we need to as a society provide the best local public schools for all children. I know, the libertarians will say tough luck to those not educated enough to get their kid into a good school. I understand that viewpoint, but I don’t share that. Maybe I can be convinced otherwise.

  2. Cosmic Tinkerer

    Gary, The info that Duncan has provided differs from what you said here. Both Duncan and Obama only ever attended private schools themselves. Duncan went to the University of Chicago Lab School, but it was Obama who sent his children there, not Duncan. When Duncan was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, he claimed that his kids attended a public school in Chicago. He also claims today that his children attend a public school in suburban Arlington, VA. I’ve never been able to verify either claim, so it would be great if someone could and name the schools in both locations.

  3. Lehrer

    We all want what’s best for our children, and the decisions we make are usually for the best interests of our children.  I find the NYC school system very confusing, having raised my children in a one-school town. But even without having a choice per se, I question if I am also a hypocrite. I could have easily bought a home in the somewhat urban town 20 miles away, but I chose to live in a rural area, definitely not affluent, but with a very homogeneous population. 

  4. CarolineSF

    Educator, I have really wondered if public schools couldn’t try something like what the KIPPs et al. do, even though it goes against what a lot of us public-school advocates applaud about public schools.

    Here’s my concept, which would only work in a district big enough to have a fair number of schools. Every family gets a default school to which their child is automatically assigned if they do nothing whatsoever, as well as guaranteed admission to a type of public magnet school to which they have to make a special application, and let’s say that public magnet school can impose hurdles of its choice.

    That’s it. Just do this as an experiment and see how it works. Read Elijah Anderson’s “Code of the Street” for a really clear picture of the peer effect of troubled kids on other disadvantaged kids.

    The big issue with the covertly selective charters, of course, is the nonstop lying about it and the concurrent bashing of and draining resources form public schools. Here in San Francisco, I applied to one of the two KIPP schools for my then-seventh-grader just to confirm that they require applicants to take a test. They claim that the test is to determine the applicant’s grade-level ability and not to determine whether to admit. The test happens before the alleged lottery (the SF KIPP schools’ claims of a lottery is a lie too, because they don’t have more applicants than openings — KIPP’s practices don’t jibe with SF culture). If it’s not clear to you how simply giving a test would aggressively screen for motivated, compliant students with supportive families, let me know and I’ll clarify.

    • Educator

      I hear you. I’m reading what I wrote and I think I was a little unclear.

      What I don’t like what many charter schools do (maybe not all charters do this) basically comes down to their marketing. When they insinuate that they’re doing a better job than those traditional schools, and they use fake stats to support this (100% graduation! 100% college!), it causes real damage to students, especially to those most vulnerable such as ELL/SPED/behavior issue kids. Charters by definition have a different set of rules than traditional schools (in other words, they don’t have to follow much of the education codes of a state), and this gets overlooked. For example, a charter can expel a student more easily to the traditional, while a traditional school can’t (where will a traditional system expel them to? to the charter? Nope, can’t be done. Usually they might be able to expel them to a neighboring district IF it’s extremely severe, like violence/injury to another student or teacher. Otherwise, it’s the student’s right to be able to attend their local school.) So a charter teacher/administration can hold this over a student’s head…”If you don’t comply, you will get kicked out”

      Some argue that these low-income kids are stuck, so charters give an escape route from the traditional system. (Rhee, for example, says something like, “If I was in the parent’s shoes, would I want my kid to stay in the failing school or leave to a charter?” She’s arguing that she would want her kid to go to the charter to escape the system.)

      Fine, if these are the arguments, then lay it out there. Don’t say that charters are better and the traditional school systems are worse. Say something like “The traditional systems have not found a way to educate low-income students well in large numbers. So, we have created a charter escape hatch, which will self-select through a lottery system / exams, applications, etc….students who want to leave and have some motivation or their parents’ involvement. In doing this, we’ll have less SPED/ELL/behavior challenged students. But at least we’ll help more than what the traditional system could, as we have a filtered student body. We’ll also have a much higher attrition rate because we hold students back, and counsel some students who don’t “fit our culture of high expectations, etc…” So we’ll have many students drop out of charters to return to the traditional system, as we have failed to educate them. For the SPED/ELL/behavior challenged students, we’ll leave many of them in the traditional system for them to deal with, as we don’t have the capacity or knowledge to educate these types of kids. When we say 100% of our kids are going to college, we mean 100% of our seniors. However, we’ve lost 40% of our senior class compared to when they entered freshmen year.”

      Now there can be a more honest debate. Is this a better system (stratifying the low-income schools?) I don’t know. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

      But as long as the charters market themselves as “better” it tricks billionaires/policy makers/mayors etc into thinking that the charters have better expectations and a better structure in running their schools and a better staff, which may or may not be true. It’s hard to tell, because the stats are so skewed and it’s nearly impossible to compare.

      The solution would be to create a school system of charters only in a major city and see what can happen. So when a charter kicks a student out, s/he has to go to another charter within the same charter system. I’m hearing New Orleans is kind of like that…but guess what…there are parent lawsuits of SPED kids because no one wants their kid. Maybe this is the price we have to pay in order to improve the outcomes of the 90% of the other students? I don’t know. Do we as a society think that this is better?

      I do think charter teachers do great work (at least the ones I know)…but they get burnt out and leave. It’ll be very difficult to get the millions of public school teachers to work like charter teachers I know. Many traditional teachers work just as hard, by the way. But yes, I do see many charter teachers work extreme hours. That’s good, but it’s not scalable I think.

      CarolineSF, the system you describe sort of sounds like a traditional school district that may have an application based gifted program or specialized school, no? But this is the system charter advocates criticize. But then their system of a charter does the same thing, except the charters don’t have to follow all of the education code and they can punt students back to the traditional system.

  5. CarolineSF

    Also, Wendy and her husband (KIPP’s head honcho) are OUTRAGEOUS hypocrites for not sending their kids to a KIPP school and insisting on only TFA CMs as teachers. Unspeakable hypocrites. All “reformers” should be publicly pilloried for not sending their kids to the schools they advocate and promote for poor kids — humiliated mercilessly, loudly, publicly and constantly from all quarters. No excuses and no mercy.

  6. Michael Fiorillo

    TFA and its leaders are not just hypocrites – as Caroline ably points out – but liars, as well: if they are “neutral” concerning school closings, why are so many of their most prominent alumni closing schools all over the country?

    Everything they say is a lie, including the words “and” & “the.”

  7. Ken Bernstein

    small but important point – since he came to DC as US Secretary of Education Duncan’s kids attend public schools – in Arlington County VA, where he and I both live. Perhaps he should have set a similar example while overseeing Chicago schools, but he should be given credit for doing what he has as Sec Ed.

    • Cosmic Tinkerer

      When Duncan was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), I attended a beginning of the year kick-off for CPS faculty and he told us that his children attended a Chicago public school. He praised his children’s teachers and their school, but he never said which school it was.

      • Bill

        Arne’s children attended the neighborhood school where he lived in Chicago. That school was the Ray School in Hyde Park.

  8. CarolineSF

    No, he should not be given credit. He just escapes being further damned and shamed as a hypocrite the way most “reforms” must be. But as I understand it, Arlington County is very elite, with extremely high-end schools. He might get a LITTLE credit if he sent his kids to D.C. schools.

    • Ken Bernstein

      not accurate CarolineSF. I live in Arlington. Yes, we are a comfortable upper middle class community with the median home price well over half a million dollars. But we also have over 30% of our students receiving free/reduced lunch. The difference is as a community we are liberal and choose to support our public schools, even though only about 10% of households have children in the public schools. We spend more per student than any other local jurisdiction, which keeps our class sizes small. We pay our teachers decently. As a community we believe the quality of our schools – as well as our other public services – increases the value of our homes.

      We are not Scarsdale NY or Highland Park Texas, only a high-income community. We are a mixed, diverse community. We have two elected officials born in other countries and one who parents were both. We have three openly gay elected public officials. Unlike the rest of the DC area, up to 8″ of snow ALL of our streets are ploughed within 24 hours.

      Duncan is entitled to some credit for recognizing that as secretary of education his kids should be in public schools. He could have chosen any of a number of DC area jurisdictions and had excellent schools, for example, Fairfax, Montgomery or Falls Church. He chose Arlington, because it is also a fairly quick drive to the Dept of Education (I could make it in rush hour in about 15 minutes).

      • Cosmic Tinkerer

        This indicates that 7.8% of Arlington residents are below the poverty level: http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-Arlington-Virginia.html

        I don’t know why anyone would think Duncan lives in a low income community. In any case, given his test score obsession, it’s difficult to imagine he would choose to move into an area where the schools have low test scores.

        • Ken Bernstein

          never said Arlington was overall a low income community. But a high percentage of those low income families have kids in public schools, which is why school system is >30% Free/reduced lunch.

        • EB

          Not necessarily a conflict. The school population is usually lower-income than the general population. My town would stack up about the same.

        • Cosmic Tinkerer

          Sorry, but none of that negates Caroline’s comment regarding the likelihood that Duncan is sending his kids to a “high-end” suburban school.

  9. CarolineSF

    Sorry, “reformers,” not “reforms.”

  10. District 3 Parent

    Gary,

    Thanks for the long, honest post. My wife and I moved to NYC from Boston last summer, a few blocks south of you. Our journey mirrored yours, to an extent, and we came away from the odyssey that is the NYC kindergarten application process thinking of sharing a similar “guide” to navigating the choices and application process. But not for the reasons you have – to seek feedback or peace of mind for your own efforts – rather to encourage the kind of broader participation in the process that we saw sorely lacking. And based on that experience, as well as yours, I’m afraid you might be a hypocrite.

    You said you would be “happy” to send your daughter to PS 163, despite it’s so-so test scores and quite diverse population. It’s a proposition I doubt because you stated you did not even visit the school until being offered a slot in the G&T program there (in June!) and only after exhausting efforts to gain a slot in Hunter, Citywide G&T and MSC. You candidly outlined the methodical, expensive and time-consuming steps you went through to expand the school options for your daughter. That was your prerogative and you had the resources to do so. We followed a similar path, but were a bit more pragmatic (and I suppose naive) with our time and money. Having poured over the G&T placement statistics for the prior year, and aware of the long odds, we heavily researched our zoned school and became comfortable with it as an option. Yet we still applied to MSC, G&T and threw a few other options in the mix (Special Musical School and an application at PS 452). Though we have a smart, charming and engaging son we and others consider “gifted,” we did not apply to Hunter or prep for the G&T beyond some of the printout exercices (falling for the fallacy that you could not prep for it). The options we put on the table took no additional financial resources but still required:
    -A weekend visit to the District 3 fair last fall (where we first observed that the demographics of the visiting parents were not representative of a district that stretches well into Harlem and Morningside Heights).
    -Five weekday, work-hour school tours. (Not too convenient for working parents who can’t text and say “I’ll be in at 10.”)
    -Four paper and one online application, all of which had different forms of submission.
    -A brief foray into the initially opaque then disquieting MSC “lottery” process, which, despite the appeal of the school (many friends there and close proximity) left us unwilling to grovel for a spot.
    Again, everything we did was free and freely available to any resident of District 3, from 59th street to Central Harlem. But it was also unquestionably a filtering process that results, year-over-year, in peer groups with parents who have the means and tenacity to navigate the system. That was apparent in every school tour and the G&T test session (at nap time on a Sunday in January when half the kids had or were recovering from a cold).

    I don’t say “yes, you are a hypocrite” lightly or to be particularly critical. I just don’t think people fully appreciate the way that some of these “choices” outside of the charters institutionalize self-selecting peer groups. MSC, which you have touched on quite nicely, is the most egregious example. How does a purportedly “random” lottery process result in a peer index (21) with such a spread from its closest zoned schools, PS 84 (peer index 41) and 163 (peer index 37)? We know how – an application process that requires a call to the office at certain times of day to schedule a tour during working hour times to be eligible for an opaque lottery. And wait list slots, as we know, are filled by petitioning, volunteering and politicking. The publicly acceptable defense of this is that it ensures parents support the school “philosophy,” but I frankly don’t see an enormous difference between this and charter school filtering (before and after enrollment).

    Some other parting thoughts:
    -Where did our son land? We did not get offered a district G&T slot (was not a surprise – he was in the mid 90s). We made no efforts to lobby MSC after he landed a slot in the French dual-language program at PS 84. Did we choose this because it is a fantastic chance to give him the gift of another language and a unique cultural experience? Yes. Was it also a more-than-subconscious effort to land in a more self-selecting peer group? Yes, of course. Though we are impressed with the school overall and the community, I will freely admit we’d probably be struggling more the choice if he landed in the general ed program.
    -G&T: After the scoring error, I’m afraid your daughter had no better chance at Anderson than she did before. Year after year only a minority of 99th percentile kids land slots in the Citywide program (and Richard Rodgers). The scoring errors moved more kids up, exacerbating the problem. The new tests were designed to filter more kids out, and failed at that (both before and after the regrettable scoring errors). I don’t know what the city should do, to be honest.
    -Would I change zoned schools and some of the choices we explored? No. Despite the flaws we saw in the process, I think it is still critical to keep middle class parents in Manhattan in the school system. We came from Boston, where these choices, by-and-large do not exist, and the broad zones (busing) have driven affluent parents from the system. I think there has to be a more concerted effort to make the application process (from awareness of choices to actual application) easier. And every possible dollar has to put into quality pre-K, which will do more to level performance down the road than anything.

    So that’s my $.02 and the results of a years’ worth of investigation and hustling (if not prepping). I’m sharing here because this seems a group genuinely interested in thoughtfully debating these issues.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Yes, I did leave out some details to keep the already very long post down to a reasonable size, but we did tour P.S. 163 in the Fall also, and then again after getting admitted to the G and T program there.

    • Educator

      Although I didn’t quite follow all the acronyms of your post (as well as Gary’s) even though I read everything, I hear your point I think you’re saying. In both the traditional and charter systems, there is a sort of filtering. A clear example is that in the traditional system there are gifted and talented programs, and selective high schools such as Science, Stuy, Tech in NYC. A less clear example is what you write with the highly difficult navigation process to select a school.

      I think the problem I have with charters is that they say they’re better than their local traditional failing school, while schools like Science, Stuy, Tech don’t claim that since it’s so very obvious they have filter in. With the crazy process you went through, that’s another way schools get filtered. The thing is, you stayed in the traditional system, so the entire public system doesn’t lose funding. The NYC DOE can create a series of different schools for different folks (whether that’s good or not), and they can manage fiscally.

      Charters, however, pull students out from the traditional system, so it’s essentially two different systems. Again, some say this is good, as it creates competition and improves education. I’m willing to see this experiment play out, but I’m worried when I read false claims, or when I meet charter educators who tell me, yes, it’s true, they do things like discourage difficult kids / SPED / ELL kids from coming to their school.

  11. CarolineSF

    OK, Ken, fair enough. I still think it should be assumed and expected that he send his kids public and he should be mercilessly pilloried if he didn’t do it.

    • Cosmic Tinkerer

      Duncan has done public ed for his kids. I’d like to see him, Obama, Kopp, Rhee and all the others who promote military style education, like they have at “no excuses” charters such as KIPP, sending their own children to those kinds of schools.

  12. stressed

    Mr Rubinstein I have read your blog as inspiration for a while now and I thank you for spelling out in such detail how you came to the decisions you did for your own child’s education. While reading this I was mentally contrasting it to what decisions I had to make when my first child started school. Wow. I cannot believe the convolutions, machinations and stress that has to be devoted to even starting the education process now. It gave me great pause to consider how in the same circumstances could have handled it. I found myself suddenly a single mother transplanted across the country right before my son started school. I moved into a rental house so he could be class with his peers, just as you had indicated was a priority for your children. My decision on where to move was predicated on that and only that. Housing= schooling and one of a myriad of stressful decisions I was faced with could be resolved. If I was to face the convoluted steps you did to get my child into the proper school, I might have collapsed from the drawn out process and stress. Due to life, I would not have been able to really handle that layer upon layer of ‘tasks’ in what is such a pivotal decision. I would have stressed over the testing, the lack of money for ‘training to level the field’ and also about how would I be able to do that for all of my children let alone one. All that mental energy spent with no good reason or rational from the BOE, I am thankful not to have gone through that but there are plenty of parents who find themselves placed into single parenthood or financial straits who are already tapped out trying to do right for their children. That these families would have to go through such hoops to get a level playing field for their kids is so sad. I have been thinking on this since I read your blog. Could I have done what you went through- fairly straight forward issue- bright child with parents focused on education. No special issues like health, behavioral or ESL and parents that were aware of the hoops to jump through. If I think of myself in those terms and it sounds like it would have been too much for me to handle, imagine parents who don’t have any of those ‘advantages’. They don’t know the hop[s, they might not speak the language, they have limited time and or money or have life issues that have come up to drain family resources at this critical time? How seemingly impossible and how those families will feel that their alternate school choice puts their child forever peering into a window of a world they do not get access to.
    I am forever thankful that my children’s first schools allowed me to lay down one of many stressors of sudden single parenthood. The most critical one in my own mind that allowed me to get back on my feet and bounce back for my family. If I had been bulldozed by the process in the initial stages, it might not have been possible to do. Thank you for sharing Mr. Rubinstein and I hope you do not get too much grief for doing so publicly. It has strongly reminded me that public schools help more than just the children with in them, they help their families to.

  13. Michael Fiorillo

    If Duncan sends his children to public schools, then he’s merely the exception that proves the ed deformer rule, and it doesn’t refute the charge of hypocrisy regarding his unwillingness to send his kids to a KIPP-style Skinner Box/ behavior modification charter school, which he insists upon for other people’s children.

  14. Anonymous

    The NY Times ran an article this year about the racial disparities between the Gen Ed and G&T tracks at PS 163. G&T is 47% white, Gen Ed is only 18% white:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/education/in-one-school-students-are-divided-by-gifted-label-and-race.html?ref=albaker&_r=0

    In addition, you acknowledge that you spent thousands of dollars “prepping” your child to take a test so she could go to a school “with the most appropriate peer group for her.” You did this because you felt a high percentage of parents also pay for professional test prep, which should have obvious implications for you regarding the predominant economic class of children admitted to G&T. So while you claim you would like you child in a racially and economically diverse class, the very way you helped your child gain entry into that class negatively effects the possibility of economic diversity in G&T.

    As a white NYC parent with one child in public school and one child in private, I appreciate the detail of your article and your struggle. I think as parents, from Obama on down, we look at the options before us and try to pick the “best” one, which clearly means different things to different families. Given the economic and racial disparities of the program you choose, and the fact that you “prepped” your child to gain entry into that program even though it was against the rules, I think you should put more consideration into exactly what kind of peer group you are selecting for your child. And when you acknowledge that truth, then you wont be a hypocrite.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      There is no rule against prepping for the G & T test, just the Hunter test, which we didn’t get into anyway. Besides, I’m not sure, nor will I ever know, exactly how much the prep sessions actually helped her. They said she did very well on the first class and I’m not convinced that she wouldn’t have done just as well with no preparation. Honestly it would be better for everyone if nobody prepped for these tests. I’d take my chances with my daughter having no prep compared to everyone else with no prep, even if it meant being shut out.

      • Anonymous

        The DOE does not condone the kind of test prep you bought for your child. This is actually what they state:

        Families may review the practice test materials with their children, which are included in the G&T Handbook. Families can also review basic concepts that students are likely to encounter on the assessments. While a practice test is provided, it is only meant to familiarize young children with the test experience, some test items, and the test structure.

        Your piece is critical of the hypocrisy of politicians and of the charter schools who try to game the system, but you don’t seem to hold your own family to the same standard. You have convinced yourself that what you did was ok because “everyone does it.” But everyone doesn’t do it- some because they can’t afford to, others because they believe it is unethical. Therefore, I feel you are actually no different then the people and schools you (not incorrectly) criticize above.

      • Manuel

        The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

        Are you going to follow the same road when your son reaches your daughter’s current age?

        Prepping for any test is not good in the long run as all you end up with is effectively a trained monkey. Indeed, if all the kids prepped, then they will all be about the same. But it doesn’t mean that they will be better than the ones who did not prep.

        I hope you make a more ethical decision in the future. And thank you for being candid and opening yourself to criticism.

    • Educator

      Reformers sometimes use a similar argument…that for those parents in low-income neighborhoods who care, they need to have a choice to have their child escape. Hence, they’re OK with charters, as it provides a way out to filter out students. I guess depending on one’s philosophical stance, this is good or bad.

      I think this is a bit overblown, as many low-income schools do have successful students in them. It’s a small percentage, but there are some. What I believe charters are doing is finding that small percentage and pulling them out of the traditional school, and also pulling out a select few more who may have not done well in the traditional school. Is this a good policy or not? I’m not sure.

      • CarolineSF

        Educator, I think also the successful ones* are pulling out kids who have the potential to be motivated (and are compliant by nature) in a setting where they’re not distracted by oppositional classmates.

        I’m not sure whether this is good or bad, but if it’s working by any measure, I do think it has to be recognized and examined. And that’s why I made my proposal for a setup where public schools offer a magnet-type setup for the motivated and compliant.

        *defining “successful” is complicated — is it successful to have high scores while pushing out 60% of your students, etc. etc. etc.?

        • Educator

          Yes, success is complicated as far as looking at the school level. Should, for example, a 100% / 100% charter school be celebrated IF, in theory, that the surviving 60% of students in their charter MIGHT have had a better outcome than if they had all stayed in their traditional school?

          In a related thought -
          I think many reformers have taken the easy way out to define success by standardized test scores (Ex: Students First advocates for 50% of a teacher evaluation to be based on test scores. NCLB said a school could be re-constituted if they have…what is it…5 years of not meeting AYP. Parent Revolution has said that if test scores are low the parents can force reconstitution by petition.)

          But now there’s push back against this, both from educators, parents, and students. Now there’s info showing that a lot of these successful proficient high scoring low income students are doing terribly in college. It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, but it seems to be surprising for some. If your entire education experience was under a no-excuses standardized test is super important education model, other things in my opinion get dropped – teamwork, empathy, social development, leadership, etc…stuff that middle class students get in their more well off neighborhoods. Don’t forget that a lot of charters don’t have as robust non-academic programs since they focus more on the standardized tests that have stakes to them. Again, I’m not saying this is terrible – afterall, charter advocates are focused on “results” as defined by standardized test scores. Maybe the traditional system needs this push.

          So maybe there’s hope that reformers will reform, and the “status quo” might try a newer thing or two.

  15. Tim

    When all is said and done, the “who sends their kid to what type of school” argument is a distraction. Too often it is highly susceptible to the “it’s okay when a Republican/Democrat does it” bias that pollutes a lot of our political “discourse.”

    Arne Duncan sends his kids to traditional district schools, and in a big district that’s not without its challenges; Eva Moskowitz sends all her kids to public schools and her two youngest to one of her own “no excuses” charters. But to many these choices apparently aren’t worth even a single grudging debate point. Rather than stay in a traditional zoned district public school and work to make it better, which is the advice she’d give to a poor parent with no other options, Leonie Haimson switched her kids to private schools; Diane Ravitch sent her kids to an uber-elite private K-12. But it’s okay because Leonie’s such a tireless champion for reducing class sizes, and whatever Diane did in a past life doesn’t matter. Gary is sending his kid to 163’s G&T program, and this will either please or outrage observers depending on their preexisting conditions. The bottom line is that these are personal parenting decisions, and any conclusions we draw from them likely aren’t worth much.

    I will add this, though: if you think that every kid should get an education like the one offered at Dalton, Sidwell, etc., you can’t gloss over the specifics. Those schools cream (ruthlessly, brutally), they are shockingly expensive to operate, and their teachers are at-will employees who don’t receive defined benefit pensions. Which of these fundamental features stay and which go in a “Dalton for all” system of public education?

    Gary, as a “veteran” NYC DOE parent, I can tell you that your concerns about your daughter receiving a level-appropriate education in a highly heterogeneous setting were justified. NCLB, local reforms, large class sizes, and the “project-based learning” fad have made it far too easy for schools to adopt “benign neglect” as their approach to educating bright kids. I’m glad that you were able to choose a program that works for your family.

  16. Gary, I really appreciate this post, but it also made me laugh.

    I grew up in Rye NY (a “top” NYS district and also an affluent one) where I went to public schools. Now I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, also a “top” district with a (much more diverse but still fairly affluent town), and my kids are making/have made their ways through the public schools here.

    I would reflect that the main difference between what happens in Rye or Ann Arbor and what you were doing is that most people in Ann Arbor start out by assuming that their local neighborhood school will be fine for their kids. And if it’s not–and only if it’s not–then they work to switch them. There is one public school that is a “magnet” (and my kids went there) but aside from a required visit to the school, the application is completely, completely, completely based on lottery. If you want to change the NYC system, then I would suggest that be part of your plan (make things truly a lottery).

    If your local Public School is, as you say, fine, then why spend thousands of dollars on prepping your child for something they have a less than 5% chance of getting? Spend that money instead on piano lessons, summer camp, or a trip to Quebec. . . Why not start with what you think will be “fine,” and then change if it is not?

    I wouldn’t call you a hypocrite, I would just say that I think in the end that time and money spent could be spent on better uses–and that you exacerbate the (broader) problem by buying into the Manhattan mania of “must get my kid into Hunter.”

    We all need to take a step back and ask what the longer-view point is. I live in the town with the University of Michigan, but I can tell you that kids from all over the state go there, and they don’t necessarily all start with the best local schools…but mostly they went to schools that were “fine.”

    • Educator

      Interesting thoughts Ruth. I too think that most people in America go to schools that are fine. I think there’s some sort of poll released once that had a high % of parents say they are satisfied with their local school (maybe it was 80% or something like that), but when asked what they thought about American public schools, the same % thought it was a major failure.

      The problem is with schools in low-income neighborhoods. The reformers are trying to change the way education is done in urban cities and focusing on in school things. The problem they’re facing is that a lot of their reforms are affecting all schools, even ones that the vast majority of parents, students, community members believe are great. So I think the reformers need to re think their game plan IF their actual goal is to improve low-income schools.

      IF their goal is to privatize education, then they ought to continue what they’re doing to try to convince the public that all public American schools are failing and that one day Shanghai and the Netherlands will rule us unless we do their reforms.

  17. Dear lord. This is why Mr. and Ms. Jazzman moved to the suburbs: who would ever want to go through this nonsense if they could avoid it?

    Gary, I’ll assume your daughter’s test was scored similarly to an IQ test: 100 for the mean, and a standard deviation of 15 points. So your daughter’s score, and the cutoff, are over three SD’s away from the mean. It is absurd to make an argument that this test can make such fine distinctions that far out on the rat tail (it’s absurd to argue it could do so in the middle of the bell curve). The notion that NYCDOE can move the cutoff for Anderson around by a point or two and maintain the integrity of the process is lunacy.

    NYC should not offer ANY G&T programs if they can’t provide them for EVERY child who qualifies. We can argue as to whether a school like Anderson should exist at all, but the idea that we can sift through the 25% of your district scoring in the 99th percentile and find the “really” smart children is insane.

    All this said: there is an argument to be made that this system is more morally defensible than sorting by socio-economic status and ability to live in a nice, leafy New Jersey suburb like mine. At least a kid whose family couldn’t afford the extra prep still has a shot; at least the very, very superior children have a chance to stand out, even if they’re poor.

    This is the conversation we should really be having: if the kids in the ‘burbs get to enjoy a “peer effect” by virtue of their parents’ ability to move, why can’t kids in the city who are qualified enjoy that same effect? It’s hypocritical for a suburban dad like me to insist a city dad like you send your kid to a fully integrated school when my kids’ school is made out of ticky-tacky. We have to start being honest about what’s really going on here.

    Unfortunately, we can’t have this conversation: “reformers” have polluted the dialog by insisting the problem is primarily “bad” teaching. That is, as you point out, absurd on its face. What they have done is create a system, like NYC, where parents like you run around trying to find the best peer group they can for their child – but they can’t admit that’s what they created.

    The cognitive dissonance doesn’t seem to bother them. It should – but it should bother folks like me as well.

  18. Emily Becker

    I appreciated the honesty of this post. I felt very discouraged after reading it. How can we ever enhance the “peer group” if children like yours don’t attend our schools? And yet, who is willing to step up and sacrifice their children for an ideal?

    • Educator

      I wonder if it’s necessarily a sacrifice to have one’s middle class child go to a school with more low income students. I mean, this is a diverse society, and should we hide our children from other people’s children and from the society at large?

      But…I get it. We all want best for our own child, so I guess all things being equal we would want our child to be around other children who have better vocabulary and all. It’s obvious this is how most people work. Otherwise we wouldn’t have Harlem and the Upper West Side. It’d just be a bunch of neighborhoods that are all equally diverse if we didn’t stratify.

  19. Anonymous2

    Gary – I praise you for being honest about the whole thing. We just went through this draining process as well – same tests, same visits, same research and countless notes on schools. With a good outcome as our children will be classmates next year! I have to say however that I find you very unapologetic about all the test prepping. Isn’t there a contradiction – do you think she really belongs in that peer group if she had to be prepped that much? Isn’t it gaming the system to take the spot of a truly gifted child whose parents are less informed and most importantly cannot afford the prepping? We all want the best for our children, but where is the fairness and equal opportunity here?

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Yes, if a kid is too test prepped, he or she could end up in a class that is over his or her head. I see this at Stuyvesant, where I teach, quite often. But, in this case, I don’t think that the test prep we did, which I think totaled twelve 45 minute sessions, could not have raised her score any more than one or two percentage points. These tests are not so accurate for four year olds to truly distinguish between someone in the 97th percentile and the 99th percentile, particularly when something like 40% of students in this neighborhood score over the 90th percentile. I didn’t do any sort of pre-test to find out what she would have gotten, but I really don’t think this type of prep is enough to get someone who doesn’t ‘belong’ in a G&T class into one. I suppose that if next year you hear your child complaining of ‘that Rubinstein kid’ who is slowing down the class all the time, you’ll know you were right to be concerned!

      • Anonymous2

        Somehow I do not have think we will have that issue next year. Looking forward to meeting you in September!

        • Gary Rubinstein

          Great! See you in the fall.

  20. I really enjoyed this post, so much so that I wrote one in response. See http://allthingsedu.blogspot.com/2013/07/gifted-and-prepped.html

  21. Jennifer F.

    My favorite part of this excellent blog is the last paragraph, where you accurately describe charters as creating “a peer group of motivated low-income students with motivated parents.” I am in total agreement: if charters accurately represented themselves as serving this niche, and didn’t trash talk schools trying to serve the rest of the population, public debate and policy could be much more rational.

    • skepticnotcynic

      I disagree that charters represent a peer group of motivated low-income students with motivated parents. From my experience, the students in charters, for the most part, are not any more motivated than the average kid at a traditional public school. What you find is that you don’t have the bottom of the barrel kids in charters nor the cream of the crop that you would find in traditional public schools. You find a lot of kids lumped in the middle of the bell curve. The parents aren’t always motivated either. Some of them game the system to receive extended day care for their kids. At the end of the day, most high-performing charters are not any more effective at educating poor kids. They just have an easier load of kids to teach, since they don’t have 10 kids in a classroom who perpetually cut classes or have a lot of behavior problems.

      • Educator

        Interesting. Doesn’t the fact that an application that needs to be filled out already show a little more something, whether that’s motivation, or it shows an indication of some sort of know how on how to navigate a charter application process?

        I know in our school, when the students need to return some sort of form for their parents to sign, the honors kids have it the next day, and the students who struggle tend to have a hard time getting the task done. Not sure if that’s the parents’ fault or the kid’s.

        • skepticnotcynic

          Like I said, elite charters, for the most part, have parents that would be able to fill out rudimentary forms. Rarely do you see the bottom 10-15% of kids/parents when it comes to academics and behavior in a high-performing charter. You end up getting a lump of kids between the 25th-75th percentile.

          This is why high-performing charters tend to stay off the low-performing radar because the vast majority of the students can pass the basic skills test that the state administers.

          This certainly does not mean college ready. I can only speak for middle and high school, not elementary. The elite charters are quite good at gaming the numbers. I feel bad for the traditional public schools in the wrong zip codes.

  22. Anonymous3

    My child is registered to join the kindergarten class at 163 as well. As an educator, what do you think makes the G&T program there so “great”, as based upon what you saw during the tours and the orientation (which I did not get to attend)? Personally, I thought it was just somewhere between OK and fine. Facilities: eh. 1 class only: eh – can’t always be great socially. Maybe I’m missing something. I hope so! Thanks.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      I just liked the general ‘vibe’ and energy I was getting from the place. I know this isn’t very ‘data driven’ of me, but I liked what I saw. True, the facilities were not spectacular, but that doesn’t matter that much for me.

  23. Lauren Steiner

    This is the first time I have read your blog. I am an activist in LA who protests the increasing corporatization of all public institutions and public goods in this country, including public lands, the Postal Service and public schools.

    Like some of the other commenters, I appreciate your honesty. But I have to say, when I got to the part about your deciding to enter this whole competitive process to get your kid into Hunter and then all the others, I stopped reading closely and started skimming. I didn’t need to hear all the gory details. It’s essentially what I went through trying to get my kid into the best private school in Los Angeles.

    And then it hit me, yes, we both are hypocrites. Because we can’t pretend to care about what is happening to poor, low-income kids whose parents don’t have the time or money to play these games, if by our very participation in these games, we are perpetuating the very system we abhor.

    I come from an upper middle class family and went to Rye Country Day School in the 60s and 70s, even when public education was good, because, quite frankly, my mother was a snob. And I got an amazing education, did fairly well in school and got into Wesleyan University, one of the best small liberal arts universities in the country then and now.

    But at 55 years old, I have learned that for all the intellectual intelligence I have amassed, it has been my lack of emotional intelligence that has kept me back in life socially and professionally.

    My point is, yes, you can cite research that says that an advanced peer group is best for the intellectual development of a child. But there is so much more to life, success and happiness than intellectual development.

    It is only in the past few years through my work in the Occupy movement that I have come to associate with people who come from different socio-economic backgrounds than me. And it is because of that that I have gained true emotional empathy for people less fortunate than me that informs my work as a political activist.

    I think if you were able to keep your child in the neighborhood public school, your child would get so much from being able to socialize with people of different backgrounds and different abilities that would serve her better in later life than going to an elite school. I wish now that I had made that decision myself for my son.

    Ironically, this may also help your daughter get into an elite private university, if that is still your goal. At a Wesleyan admissions event, I was told when I asked which schools were feeder schools in LA that they always like to take kids from public schools.

    As for my son, he is extremely bright and went to two of the top private schools in LA. But he did not apply himself to his studies fully while in high school and never got above a cumulative GPA of 3.0. The fact was, he was pursuing studying and writing about sabermetrics on his own time and later teaching himself guitar and starting a band, that he focus on his subjects. Plus he didn’t really care where he went to college. So he ended up going to what I consider to be a second rate public university. But he will do fine, because he is motivated to pursue his passions,

    The point is no matter what you do, your daughter will follow her own path. I wouldn’t sweat the choice of school. Your daughter will do fine intellectually if she has a parent like you who will supplement her education with stimulating dinner time conversations and family field trips, etc. So much education happens outside the classroom, as I am sure you know.

    • skepticnotcynic

      Agreed, sending your kid to a school with a bunch of high-achieving snobs is not necessarily a better education. I would prefer to send my kid to a school that has a mix of every one, just like you experience in life. I see so many people I work with who went to fancy schools and had all the opportunity in the world growing up, yet know so little about the real world. It’s like they’ve lived in a bubble their whole lives. In a way, they are almost as sheltered as the low-income students I have taught. At the end of the day, who gives a shit about prepping your kid for the rat race. As long as you’re a smart and caring parent who lives in a community with hard working and down-to-earth kids and parents, your kid will probably turn out ok. There is nothing worse than a parent who neglects their kids, but a close second is an annoying yuppie helicopter parent who wipes their kid’s ass at every turn.

  24. “So that’s my saga — my quest to get my daughter with the most appropriate peer group for her, the most important in-school factor, in this parent’s opinion”

    Thanks for the post. I’d only quibble with “most appropriate”–since in fact you want what I’d assume every parent wants, to have your kid surrounded by excellent students.

  25. Fantastic post. A few comments – first, neither of my children, age 8 and nearly 6, can blow their noses.

    Second, I’d be torn between the great teacher and the peer group question. Once the peer group is “adequate”, maybe the teacher quality then comes into play, but you need a minimum level of student ability/motivation/good behavior.

    Third, my sister didn’t get into Hunter over 30 years ago because she supposedly “failed mazes.” 13 years later she was valedictorian at Stuyvesant.

    Fourth, I think that having taught in the NYC public schools should be a requirement for the job of chancellor, and that, if the candidate has children, he/she should be required to have sent/send his/her kids to NYC public schools. Having attended NYC public schools as a kid would be a nice bonus.

    Fifth, our values bump up against reality all the time and the tension is most difficult when it involves our kids. My daughter and yours are in kindergarten together. I’m thrilled with the school and the teachers. I’m thrilled she’s in public school. But had she not gotten in to this school, I’m not sure I could have sent her to our old zoned school, P.S. 165. It’s hard to make your own child a guinea pig. I communicated with a number of families considering P.S. 165 for our older children. If we had all sent our kids there and been involved parents, that would have been undoubtedly good for the school. (Which goes back to your other point -not only is peer group important, parental involvement is important.) But because of the fallacy of something-or-other, everyone was afraid he would be the only one to send his kid there, so no one did.

    Sixth, my commitment to public education is constantly tested. It was tested when the DOE totally illegally eliminated a policy intended to make it easier for siblings to attend the same school. It was tested when the Pearson made the same scoring error on my daughter’s G&T test. I’m not a math teacher, I haven’t taken math in 20 years, but I can darn well tell you that a score of 92 which counts for 65% and a score of 87 which counts for 35% does not come out to a score of 88 and it is appalling that no one caught this most basic of errors. It is tested when my older daughter’s class has 30 kids in it, 2 of them having arrived the last week in October, the DOE just having gotten around to offering open G&T spots then. It is tested when teachers tell me that they get “in trouble” for not slavishly following a curriculum when instead we should be applauding their creativity and the extra work that is required to deviate from said curriculum.

    I think that’s it. For now.

  26. Oh, one more. I knew I was done. Our daughters’ class has children who are from, or whose parents are from, THIRTEEN different countries/cultures. Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, England, France, Germany, Iran, Korea, Montenegro, Puerto Rico, Romania, South Africa and Turkey. Now that’s diversity.

  27. Oh, and facilities are the least important part of a school, particularly at the elementary level. The only facility that really matters there is having some type of outdoor space.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
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Grade
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Subject
Math

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